Thursday, October 25, 2012

Motel Management Recommends...

Monty's Favorite Halloween Specials and TV Movies!

Look, I gotta be honest, October is probably the busiest month of the year for me. And it might even be more expensive for me than December (then again, I don't have any kids). I just love Halloween, and I like to spend all month celebrating it, even to the point of procrastinating things already beyond the limits of procrastination. Halloween only comes once a year, right? 

Anyway, I'll make my politician promises right now, before I get into this article. One, we have another all new Moonlight Motel comic strip coming your way before the month is out. Two, if at all possible, I'll do one more article for my favorite bigscreen holiday films, some of which I consider at least as crucial to proper celebration of the holiday as the true classics I'm about to mention. Also, again, if at all possible, I will squeeze in an article on my favorite horror films for this time of year (and maybe all-time), but I can't truly promise that article will happen this year. Stamp that with a big maybe. My schedule is REALLY tight. In fact, I should really be in bed right now, and I still have to P90X.  

Well, on to the point! Here it is, the article of my favorite, must-watch Halloween specials and Halloween themed TV movies! And, keep in mind, this is not a countdown or a top ten list. These are, for the most part, in no particular order. Also, because of time constraints, I'm going to try to make this quick (of course, with me, that means you still should prepare yourself for a novel; look how long this set up is taking). This also is not going to include "every Halloween special or TV movie I can think of", it is just my personal must-watch (if at all possible) list. After all, there are already websites with more complete lists. As the header says, these are Monty's recommendations.

First up, okay, I'll just get this out of the way. It's the royalty of holiday TV special stars, the Peanuts gang, in the royalty of Halloween specials, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

I'm not sure how much point there is to discuss this Halloween special. If you love Halloween, you've seen it, and you probably own it. This is their second best holiday special, because it's one of their early ones and so, it's the most like their Christmas special (even the voices) in style, charm and wit. If you actually haven't seen it, it's just a great special about a bunch of kids celebrating Halloween, one of them in his own mixed up way.  A lot of people do complain that the Snoopy WWI fantasy sequences are boring. I always liked them though, even if they are a bit off topic. But, as I said, most of them have something that I think is key to a great Halloween story, and that's showing people actually celebrating Halloween in traditional, nostalgic, familiar ways. Dressing up in costumes, trick or treating, having a Halloween party, carving pumpkins, that's what I like to do and see on Halloween and in a Halloween movie or TV special. Just like the Christmas special, this is a relaxing joy to watch.

Next, The Worst Witch! What can you say about this special! It's Harry Potter before Harry Potter, far less serious, and in an all-girls' school for witches. Plus, Tim Curry as the Grand High Wizard!

Actually, I have already gone over this one in a recent article about Fairuza Balk movies that make great Halloween viewing, so go read that one. It's also under the Management Recommends heading. Basically, this HBO TV movie from the 80's has to be seen to be believed, and if you grew up with it like I did, you'll force yourself to watch it every year, just like the Star Wars Holiday Special. Okay, this is a lot better than that one. Even though, honestly, I like that one.

And now, The Halloween That Almost Wasn't, or maybe you know it by its home video title, The Night Dracula Saved the World.

Much like The Worst Witch, this Halloween TV special got a lot of airplay on the Disney Channel before the tween shows took over, in case you didn't catch it back when it was getting annual runs on whichever major network had hold of it. Starring Judd Hirsch of "Taxi" as Dracula, this silly, entertaining special is one of THE BEST live-action Halloween specials you'll find. What does it do right? Besides incorporating trick or treating and a bit of Halloween history (accurate or not), it also takes the classic monsters (which I prefer by far over 80's slasher monsters and aliens) and brings them together, "Mad Monster Party" style, in a story about trying to convince "the witch" to fly over the moon on Halloween night so that the holiday can commence as planned. See, she doesn't feel appreciated and has gone on strike. It's very 70's at times, especially the cast, but it still manages to entertain (me, anyway) every year! Much less dated than, say, "The Paul Lynde Halloween Special". Boy, did that age poorly.

Raggedy Ann and Andy in The Pumpkin Who Couldn't Smile is another big fave of mine from waaaay back. With Chuck Jones animation (he also did a Christmas special with them) and the Raggedy Dog, Arthur, this special made me a huge Raggedy Ann and Andy fan, while other kids who didn't see this stuff probably thought I was just weird. 

Anyway, this is the story of a sad Jack O'Lantern that no one bought on Halloween. Raggedy Ann and Andy discover a little boy who has no pumpkin of his own, and they decide to bring the two together. It's a simple and sugary sweet story, but it is totally delightful. And, again, Chuck Jones animation. This is far more tolerable than "Raggedy Ann and Andy, a Musical Adventure". Though, that film is so bizarre you have to love it.

I'm gonna give the next one, a TV movie from 1985 called The Midnight Hour, a little extra attention. Why? Because it is a veritable Halloween TV special masterpiece. Yeah, it's cheesy, but that's like a requirement for Halloween TV specials. And yet, it is still serious enough to be awesome. 

So, there's this kinda nerdy guy named Phil,...

and, somehow, he is friends with the cool kids. Or, maybe they're not,
but they're not the nerd kids. And they clearly aren't kids either, but they're
supposed to be. 

Anyway, they "borrow" an old trunk from the local museum of town history,
and in it they find a scroll they decide to read in a graveyard, which brings 
a vampire witch and pretty much everything else back to life. And, it just happens
that buried in the town cemetery are not only standard zombies, but also a
werewolf, a giant killer guy a la Jason Voorhees, and your standard, super
cute and hot cheerleader ghost... 

Of course, Phill falls for the cheerleader ghost, and together, they figure
out what's going on and set out to put a stop to it. They seem to succeed,
but as other websites have pointed out, we never really get to see what
the end result is. I mean, whether or not things went back to normal
in the small town, or if everyone who got killed or monsterized that
night (like, pretty much everyone but Phill) stayed dead.

In the scene above, Phil unwittingly encounters one of the undead, who,
for now, is just happy to enjoy a Halloween party for the first time in a long time.
However, when Phil leaves for a bit to have his adventure with Sandy,
the cheerleader, the evil spreads to everyone in the party, and we discover
(during a completely out of nowhere musical number) just how much this film
was inspired by Michael Jackson's Thriller, another something special you
should watch every year at this time.

As I said, the midnight hour is cheesy and corny, but it also takes itself seriously most of the time, which just makes it that much more entertaining, I think. The story is actually really fun, and so's the background radio-play soundtrack with Wolfman Jack breaking up the songs as the disc jockey. This movie is a hoot to watch with family and friends, it's perfect for the holiday, and again, cute cheerleader ghost. Check it out!

Here's a bunch I'm going to mention all at once now, folks, the Disney Halloween specials. There are a nice handful of these, but mostly they are similar. Some were made for home video, some were made for television, and I guess I should start with the most famous one, A Disney's Halloween Treat.

Basically, these were all clip shows. They featured famous Disney scenes like the Night on Bald Mountain sequence from Fantasia, the Wizard's Duel from Sword in the Stone, Peter Pan and Captain Hook sword fighting, some or all of Ichabod and the Headless Horseman, the wonderful Donald Duck short, "Trick or Treat", the Mickey, Goofy, and Donald cartoon, Lonesome Ghosts, and much more. Of course, each one had its own mix. A Disney Halloween lacked the Ichabod sequence, but included the Magic Mirror's tribute to the villains. A version even earlier than Halloween Treat was Halloween Hall of Fame, an episode of the Disney anthology show hosted by Jonathan Winters. He gets a lot of screentime in this, and his humor is kinda dated, but it also devotes a lot of time to the Ichabod story, and you've gotta get SOME of the Disney animated Ichabod in every year. In 2002, we got a modernized version of the Disney Halloween Treat in the form of direct to video Mickey's House of Villains, a feature based on the House of Mouse animated TV series, and far better than the Christmas release based on the same show, but still not pleasing to those who thought this would be an actual feature film about Mickey going up against all the Disney villains (that happens, but it is just a brief framing device). Basically, what we get in this one is a lot of Disney shorts, but some of them are new ones (made for TV as they were). It's well worth having and enjoying near Halloween. Overseas in 2004, Disney's Once Upon a Halloween was released. Now that was REALLY a modernized Disney Halloween Treat, as it once again was just a clip show of Disney's scariest moments, but it actually included more recent clips from films like The Little Mermaid, the Black Cauldron, and Emperor's New Groove, among others! Very cool, as is the framing device that features the witch from Snow White in new, CGI footage that keeps her in the shadows and creates an ominous mood. Basically, all of these are good, and if you want something different but still Disney, you can decide between watching Boo to You Too, Winnie the Pooh or Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie, which just takes Boo to You Too and adds a framing story inspired by Pooh's Heffalump Movie. They're both just okay as Halloween movies go. I love Pooh, but "The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh" and the more recent "Winnie the Pooh" may have better Halloweenie moments than these. I really need to the Heffalump Halloween Movie though to refresh my memory. 

Oops, I nearly forgot...

Basically, DTV was a Disney Channel thing that played pop music with clips from Disney movies as music videos. If you don't get the reference, MTV used to play music videos. Anyway, they did a couple of Prime Time TV specials, and one was this Halloween special, with pretty cool videos for songs like Thriller, Monster Mash, Sweet Dreams, You Better Run, and Evil Woman. It's a pretty unique Halloween special I'm happy to recommend. Of course, I don't think it's ever gotten a video release, but you can find a lot of this stuff on YouTube or elsewhere online.

Now, here's one you never expected... Halloween with the NEW Addams Family!

It's a bit of a misleading title. There are some additions to the family, but even the cast is the same as the one from the 60's TV show (except for Granny). Basically, since Wednesday and Puglsey were grown up here, they added 2 more kids to Gomez and Morticia's brood, and oddly named these look-alikes Wednesday Jr. and Puglsey Jr.! The original kids were called Wednesday Sr. and Pugsley Sr. here, and, I'll admit, I mainly love this special because Lisa Loring, the original Wednesday, turned into quite a hottie, especially when still dressed as Wednesday. Having had a hardcore crush on Christina Ricci when I was younger, I do still carry a fetish for the costume. 

Below, you can see Wednesday Sr. and the new kids in their shameful Halloween costumes. But, getting back to the point, this 1970's special (according to my sources, though it feels more 80's to me) really was testing the waters for a revival of the old show. Unfortunately, the quality did not return with the original cast. This special, about crooks trying to rob the Addams Family (as usual) while they attempt to have their big Halloween celebration (and await the Santa Claus-esque visit from space alien "Cousin Shy"), doesn't have the magic of the old show, and they just don't seem as creepy and cooky in color without the art direction the bigscreen films had. It's all sort of an epic fail, sadly, but I still enjoy watching it every year, partly just for Wednesday Sr., of course, but also partly because it's so weird. I mean, especially that Cousin Shy bit. And I have no idea if I'm spelling that right. Incidentally, first time I saw this was when they were airing it due to the popularity of the Christina Ricci film. I think Ricci, as Wednesday, was actually hosting the airing that night (on TBS), ha. Maybe Pugsley too. I believe she hosted a marathon of the original show on Nick At Night back then too.

Okay, I need to speed this up now, so get ready for a flood here, folks. First, two mentions of subjects I covered already in recent articles, and those are the made for TV The Legend of Sleepy Hollow movie starring Jeff Goldblum and the Hallmark film by the same title. I rewatched that first one recently, and it does have its charms, even if it is hokey, 80's TV stuff a la Rascals and Robbers: The Secret Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (man, does that one need a DVD release!).  The second film I am a huge fan of. It is a very loyal take on the original and very well done. Some of the acting is a bit stage-play style, but some of it is great and the overall movie is just such a nice, relaxing watch. A good one to warm up for the big day when it's night quite Halloween but you already have the pumpkins carved.

Then, there's two classic specials I remember watching every year along with Charlie Brown, and those were Bugs Bunny's Howl-O-Ween Special and Garfield's Halloween Adventure. Now, I've always been a big Garfield fan, so I watch that one every year. It's a pretty good, very Garfield type special, heavy emphasis on trick or treating, which is perfect. Bugs' special was full of classic shorts about vampires and witches, and I haven't seen it for the longest time, but I remember how much that special felt like Halloween for me. I hope to get the DVD next year if not this year, even though I seem to remember catching a tiny bit of it a couple years ago and being a bit disappointed in the way the shorts were blended with the framing stuff by bad dubbing. Well, what can you do.

Here's one I foolishly almost forgot to mention, even though I'm a big fan and watch it every year, Disney's Tower of Terror!

Yep, before Pirates of the Caribbean and The Haunted Mansion, Disney turned their Twilight Zone Tower of Terror into a made for TV Halloween movie, and it was really lots of fun, even if some of the plot didn't make sense, some of the acting wasn't all that great, and the writing was classic Halloween special extra cheesy.  Hey, those are just reasons to love it more! What is more difficult to forgive is the fact that it made no reference to The Twilight Zone at all, and they dressed Kirsten Dunst in grunge almost the entire time (yeah, it was a 90's movie, and yeah, always been a Dunst fan). Anyway, it's still great and it wouldn't be Halloween without this one for me! Solving a mystery involving real ghosts haunting an old, Hollywood hotel, what's not to love?

Of course, it wouldn't be right for me to forget the Boogedy movies, so as I come close to ending this up, here we go...

Mr. Boogedy and Bride of Boogedy were two Disney TV movies from the 80's about an evil, pilgrim ghost that haunted a house in a place called Lucifer Falls. These movies are cult classics now. They are fun, family comedy ghost stories about the Davis family and their encounters with the ghost of Boogedy. The first one is the better film, plus, it has a young Kristy Swanson, but the second film is still lots of fun (even if Kristy's role is taken over by an actress I never was much of a fan of). I can't say too much else about these though, as I haven't watched them enough times in recent years to have them THAT committed to memory. They have yet to get a DVD release, and I don't have them in any other format either.

Now, there are, no doubt, a lot more Halloween specials and TV movies, and direct to video stuff too, even though it pales in comparison to how much Christmas stuff exists. Some of this Halloween programming I've seen, some of it I haven't, some of it I just was less impressed by. Granted, some of this stuff has more appeal through nostalgia than anything else. But, these are my picks for the best. Now, here are a few honorable mentions:

The Halloweentown films - I only recently got all these Disney Channel films on DVD. I had never sat to watch them, beginning to end, before. I still haven't seen all of them yet. They aren't the greatest movies in the world, that's for sure. However, the first two, particularly the very first, is fairly pleasant to watch on Halloween, and you gotta give cred to a Halloween themed franchise of TV movies. There are 4 of these films, after all!

Casper Saves Halloween - I'm a willing to say I'm a Casper fan, and this is a classic special I vaguely remember from its prime time airings and definitely remember from the Disney Channel. I always found it annoying because of the trick or treaters' voices, but I have to admit, while I don't remember much of this special at all, I've long wished to see it again.


Fat Albert's Halloween Special - I hadn't seen this one since I was a kid, then, I got the DVD a year ago. I only watched it once though, last Halloween, so I still don't have a strong memory of how enjoyable it was. I think I liked it pretty well though, and maybe it will eventually rise in the ranks to be a favorite of mine in the future.

R.L. Stein's The Haunting Hour: Don't Think About It - Yeah, this is as annoying as you'd expect it to be, especially Emily Osment in the lead role, but I still enjoy it. There is a lot to like about it, actually, and the villainous girl is pretty cute, too. 

Scary Godmother Halloween Spooktacular and Scary Godmother 2: The Revenge of Jimmy - Two computer animated Halloween specials from the 2000's that were the first Halloween specials I'd seen in quite a while. The first one I remember enjoying pretty well, bad CGI as it was. The second one I don't remember much about. I was hoping to pick these up on DVD this year, but I couldn't find them in brick and mortar stores (though they had 'em last year). I'll pick 'em up next time for sure, one way or another.

And, yes, I know about The Halloween Tree, but no, I've never seen it! Truth is, it never appealed to me much, but from what I've read about it, I'm more curious to see it now. See ya next time!

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